According to News West 9, a hunger strike broke out at the Reeves County Detention Center on March 4. Prisoners and their families say they were put into solitary confinement as retaliation for talking to an attorney.
The wife of a prisoner at Reeves said her husband was among those placed in solitary. "They're punishing them. Those who spoke with a lawyer, or were wanting to speak with one, they put them in solitary confinement," she said.
William McBride, an attorney who says he had a meeting with 56 prisoners at Reeves on March 2, told News West 9 that prison officials suddenly prevented him from speaking with clients on March 3. McBride says prison officials gave no explanation for why he couldn’t meet with clients.
“[The warden] didn’t give me a reason why. He just said, “We’re not going to let you see them today, tomorrow or in the future,” McBride said.
McBride also told reporters that the prison blocked prisoners from calling his phone number from inside.
The reports of retaliation and a hunger strike at Reeves come just weeks after McBride announced that he would pursue a $15 million lawsuit against the Willacy County Correctional facility. The Reeves and Willacy facilities are two of the nation’s 13 segregated, federal “Criminal Alien Requirement” (CAR) prisons for immigrants. Most of those incarcerated in CAR prisons have been convicted of crossing the border. McBride said he wants to include all five of the CAR prisons in Texas in the lawsuit. McBride told NewsWest 9 that prisoners say they only eat rice and beans and that 4 computers must be shared among the 2,300 prisoners, making it nearly impossible to look for legal representation.
McBride also said medical care is withheld at Reeves. He says a diabetic prisoner who lost all of his five toes and part of his foot because of an infection went untreated.
The hunger strike allegations at Reeves come just days after a major two day uprising where 2,000 immigrant prisoners at the Willacy County Correctional Center last month. Willacy is operated by the Management and Training Corporation (MTC) and, according to an ACLU report, is home to the same abuse and poor medical care.
News West 9 contacted GEO Group to comment on McBride’s access to the inmates. In a statement, they said, “As a matter of policy, our company cannot comment on operational and legal matters."
Douglas Menjivar, an immigrant just released from the Polk County Detention Center in Livingston after 22 months in detention, says he was raped in September and October 2013 while detained at the Joe Corley detention center. Joe Corley is an immigrant detention center in Conroe, Texas run by the private prison corporation GEO Group.
Menjivar says he reported the rape to the supervising Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer known only as "Mr. Hernandez," immediately after it occurred, but was ridiculed and called “stupid” for "allowing himself to be raped."
Menjivar officially reported the incident to an ICE doctor in December 2014. The agency concluded its investigation in February, stating that the results of the investigation “do not corroborate the accusation.” However, Menjivar told Semana News that he couldn't provide the names of the four witnesses to the rape because he feard for the safety of his family in El Salvador.
While at the Joe Corley Detention Center, Menjivar participated in a hunger strike last year to call attention to the inhumane conditions at the facility. The hunger strike at Joe Corley was inspired by hunger strikes at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Shortly after protests in June 2014, ICE transferred some of the immigrant protesters detained at Joe Corley to other facilities, but the majority were deported.
Menjivar has been issued an order of deportation but says he fears for his life if returned to El Salvador. Menjivar's attorney appealed to the 5th Circuit Appellate Court to stop his deportation on the grounds that since he does not have a criminal record in this country, he should not be an enforcement priority. Though the legal process has not yet been successful, advocates credit Menjivar's recent release to a congressional letter by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee requesting a stay of deportation. Additionally, due to the danger he would face if deported, the Salvadoran consulate did not issue departure papers, which further delayed his deportation.
In December, we reported that the Maverick County Detention Center was at the center of a lawsuit over rape allegations. A woman who was detained at the facility sued GEO Group, alleging that the company was negligent in operating the facility. She says this led to her rape by a 27-year-old guard named Luis Armando Valladarez.
The facility remains open but is no longer operated by the GEO Group, begging the question, “who operates it now?”.
First, some history. The GEO Group signed a contract to build the 654-bed facility in Maverick County and began operating it in 2007. But in 2013, Maverick County Judge David Saucedo called a press conference to announce that GEO was ending the contract. At the time, he suggested the facility would find a new purpose.
That new purpose appears to be coming under the control of the county’s public facility corporation, a legal entity that can finance public facilities and issue bonds on behalf of its sponsor. The legal details are laid out here.
The Maverick County Public Facility Corporation was incorporated by Maverick County Commissioners Court in 2007 as a separate non-profit corporation in order to create a legal entity to construct and operate the Maverick County Detention Center and to issue over $40 Million in Bonds for the construction of the over 625 bed prison facility. Maverick County contracted with a private prison management company, The Geo Group, Inc., to operate the Maverick County Detention Center, since its opening but The Geo Group, Inc. withdrew from managing the prison facility on October 31, 2013 at 12 Midnight, forcing Maverick County to request the Maverick County Sheriff’s Department to take over management of the prison facility. Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber appointed Guillermo De Los Santos as the Warden of the Maverick County Detention Center.
This isn’t the first time that GEO Group has left a county with an expensive facility and no choice but to take it over. In 2009, we reported the Beaumont Correctional Center to be one of at least five GEO facilities that had been closed or put under new management in several years. Then there's a long saga of Littlefield, a small Texas town still paying dearly for partnering with GEO Group on the promise that a detention center would bring jobs.
A former guard at the Jack Harwell Detention Center, Melissa Corona, has pled guilty to charges of sexual misconduct with one of the inmates. Ms. Corona was indicted in March 2014, after allegations that she began a relationship with a male inmate in 2013 by kissing him more than 10 times.
Ms. Corona was the fifth person to be arrested in 2013 after an investigation into improprieties between staff and inmates. Three other female guards were arrested on charges of sexual misconduct, and a male guard was charged with bringing contraband into the facility.
This is not the first investigation into sexual misconduct at the facility. In fact, Community Education Centers (CEC), the private corporation responsible for the maintenance and staffing of Jack Harwell, is currently facing a lawsuit alleging that the company was grossly negligent by failing to screen, hire, train and supervise its employees to maintain a secure and safe facility. In this case, the allegation is that prolonged sexual misconduct occured between a male guard and a female inmate from November 2012 to March 2013.
The Jack Harwell facility was run by CEC until June 2013, when LaSalle Corrections took over management. Although LaSalle may have won the contract from CEC, the small Louisiana based company doesn’t have a clean record either.
Troubles at the Jack Harwell center are not confined to those held on local charges, either. Until last year, the facility also had a contract to hold detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but was at the center of controversy and protests over substandard conditions for those federal detainees as well. ICE pulled their detainees from the facility shortly after news broke of the conditions.